‘Our most consequential human problems won’t be solved through competition, but collaboration.’ – Ernest L. Boyer
‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ – Anonymous
As a student, there comes a time in one’s academic career when an individual has to conquer goals, not by their own self but by working as part of a group. It might be because the instructor mandated it to be, or it might be because the tasks set before the students require a degree of complexity they have never encountered in their lives before.
Before this most peculiar turn of events, students have been conditioned to think they need to achieve and realize goals to the best of their individual capacity. Sage advice it truly is, but there are times, in the real world out there, when collaboration is the only way forward. One might end up benefiting from a more diverse range of skills or one might be exposed to a variety of differing perspectives as well. In more ways than one, it is a way of learning from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s a way of preparing oneself about the challenges and advantages that come with team work.
In short, it’s an experience that comes with pros as well as cons.
In academic life, when the time comes for collaborative projects, such as those related to collaborative writing, a lot of students groan and think of how other members might not be pulling their weight or contributing significantly. As much as problems with doing collaborative work exist, there are however, practical ways of dealing with them. By devising strategies which can help students recognize the issues, accept them as part and parcel of collaboration (a fact that remains valid and true for later life), and adopt a tactical approach to deal and cope with these issues, all that helps in realizing the end goal.
Collaborating As A Group – What Does It Entail?
When a member of the faculty assigns a group of students a collaborative project, such as a writing project, they expect the student group to work collectively and grade them on the jointly-finished product as a whole. This means no scores or marks for everybody based on their own individual contribution to the project. It’s the ‘divided we fall, united we stand’ maxim taken to its logical extreme.
When the project is of collaborative writing, students are expected to meet, brainstorm ideas, and devise a plan, delegate tasks and areas of research to each member of the team, and finally planning to meet at a specified later date to review the progress of the project. Each member is required to do due diligence and research a designated focus area.
Once the research is done, they are required to write drafts of their topics. This is akin to peer reviews, where all the individual members’ work can be overseen by peers and improved upon, yet the control of the work rests with the original author. This can be advantageous for a group, refining each other’s works by checking and proofreading them.
How to Increase Your Chances of Success with Collaborative Writing Projects?
The key is to plan these projects well, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of all team members as a whole, and effectively delegating work that makes everyone perform well. It’s not about the equal sharing of burdens but rather a more emphatic understanding of each individual’s potential. For instructors and teachers, when designating these projects, they should be mindful of the fact students will be naturally reluctant to take point on them. They will have a multitude of excuses and reasons ready to back out of them.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, teachers need to design projects that won’t be resisted by students. Here’s how:
- Interesting topics that cultivate curiosity and are worthwhile for students to undertake.
- Feasible and reasonable projects which make the right use of time, resources and individual abilities.
- Always be available to help students and listen to their concerns and queries.
- Break down projects into phases, manageable ones, so the students can take advantage of feedback based on the pieces they have delivered at each phase.
- Make these collaborative projects happen in the earlier part of the semester. This is because later on patterns will take hold, schedules will be filled to the brim, and the interest of students might not hold well.
- Have a system in place. Project seriousness into the collaboration as a matter of fact. Let your intentions be known to students and don’t divert from them. Let students know why this is important to them, reminding them regularly of the fact.
- Ensure the project will be marked with one grade for the whole group. Communicate the fact what you require is one integrated and cohesive piece of collaborative writing.
- Extol the virtues of collaboration. Give them real world examples of people from diverse walks of life coming together to create products and works of art which still withstand the sands of time. Motivate them.
- Give them adequate time to prepare and gel as a group before they get down to working. Understand that group work does not come to them naturally and students need some time to adapt to this change. This is natural, as groups tend to storm and settle on their goals before they can perform as efficiently as possible.
- Leave some class time out for the project works so students can plan their work and project outline, communicate with each other and assign responsibilities.
- Stick to the schedule. Allow time but not too much.
The issues plaguing collaborative writing are numerous. There’s the issue of students being inexperienced, hesitant, harboring friction amongst their peers and the scale of fairness. However, if teachers can foster the right kind of atmosphere and the right mindset, helping students collaborate as a whole in the process, individuals can start to see the merits of working as a group straightaway.
These lessons will not just stay once the project is over, but they will have prepared a new generation of students for the challenges of the life which lay ahead. Collaborative projects are surely required in academic life.